The Mzansi National Philharmonic Celebrates Women’s Month with 2023 National Tour in August

Mzansi National Philharmonic Orchestra

The Mzansi National Philharmonic Orchestra is undertaking its second national tour of South Africa, performing in Johannesburg at the Linder Auditorium on Thursday, August 10; Cape Town at the Cape Town City Hall on Saturday, August 12 and Gqeberha at Featherstone Market on Monday, August 14.

The repertoire to be performed in all three cities includes an operatic first half, featuring beautiful and dramatic arias followed, after the intermission, by Mahler’s monumental Symphony No. 5.

Says Bongani Tembe, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of the Mzansi Philharmonic: “We are delighted to be celebrating the women in our world of music with three powerhouse female artists.

“Following her debut appearances in our sold-out inaugural tour last December, we welcome the return of the great Marin Alsop to our podium. We’re thrilled, too, that South African soprano Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha, one of the most admired new generation sopranos, will be our soloist. In addition, leading South African violinist Sarah Oates, a distinguished concertmaster to top orchestras around the world, will lead the orchestra.”

Rangwanasha will appear in the first half of the programme, offering a feast of operatic repertoire that has brought global audiences to their feet, and caused the world’s leading critics and conductors to take note of her extraordinary gifts. Gustav Mahler’s titanic Fifth Symphony will conclude the evening.

As we celebrate Women’s Month, South African audiences are urged to seize the chance of hearing and supporting superstar Rangwanasha, as she continues to make waves in the world’s great concert halls and opera stages. Within just three years, she has triumphed in Cardiff’s Singer of the World Competition and taken the Royal Opera, Covent Garden and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by storm.

Last July Rangwanasha wowed an exuberant BBC Proms audience in London’s Royal Albert Hall. Recording the unforgettable impression she made, the UK’s Bachtrack reviewer Mark Pullinger wrote: “The standout soloist was Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha. Her rich soprano had no trouble filling the hall, her phrasing was generous and her breath control admirable. Her Agnus Dei beautifully blended, the closing Libera me – where the bassoons had a pungently ecclesiastical whiff of incense about them – impressed in its grandeur.

Her “Toi qui sus le néant” from Don Carlos in the final of the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World last year, marked Rangwanasha out as a great Verdi soprano in the making. This evening offered confirmation.”

Marin Alsop, a protégé of one of the 20th century’s foremost Mahler champions, the great Leonard Bernstein, will treat the Mzansi Philharmonic to a consummate interpretation of the Austro-Bohemian composer’s hugely demanding Fifth. A panelist on leading music competitions around the world, such as last year’s Van Cliburn competition, Alsop was the first woman to win the Koussevitzky Prize for conducting. She was also the first conductor to be awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. Music director laureate of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and chief conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Ravinia Festival, Alsop was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008 and admitted to the American Philosophical Society in 2020. Alsop also holds appointments with major international orchestras, appearing in the world’s leading performance venues with an ever-growing discography behind her name.

Alsop will open the programme with Giuseppe Verdi’s tempestuous Overture to La Forza del Destino (The Force of Destiny), paving the way for the soloist to take centre-stage, singing ‘Pace, pace, mio dio’ – Leonora’s great Act IV aria from the same opera. Not for the faint-hearted performer, this aria is geared to provide a platform for Rangwanasha to display what Edinburgh Music Review critic Brian Bannatyne-Scott called her “clear, vibrant, luminous, effortless, singing” and her “utter control and seemingly limitless power”, as she soars over Verdi’s giant melodic arcs.

Book-ended by the lovely Intermezzo to Mascagni’s much-loved one-act opera, Cavalleria Rusticana, and the shimmering Prelude to Act III of Wagner’s High Romantic masterpiece, Lohengrin, Rangwanasha then sings Liu’s touching aria, ‘Signore, ascolta’ from Puccini’s Turandot, hinting at the triumph she scored in this role at Covent Garden. She brings her contribution to the evening to a close with ‘Dich, teure Halle’, Elizabeth’s thrilling Greeting from the German composer’sTannhauser.

The main work on the programme is a rich indulgence of powerful harmony. Mahler’s Fifth Symphony has long been held up to humanity as a peak in the topography of his symphonic canon. It came into being during the summers of 1901 and 1902 while the composer was holidaying in Austria’s southern province of Carinthia.

Over its seventy-minute performance span, Mahler’s Fifth evokes vast horizons and profound emotional depths. These characteristics count among the most far-reaching of any work to be heard in the late Romantic Austro-Germanic repertoire. Iconic imprints include its celebrated trumpet fanfares that herald the start of the work, a magical hark-back to the composer’s earliest memories of military bands with its rhythmic motif echoing Beethoven’s iconic opening to his Fifth Symphony.

Another beacon that shines out is found in its famous third movement Scherzo, where perilous horn sequences treacherously pose as hurdles to be surmounted by many an unsuspecting conductor and principal horn player. And then, most emblematic of all, the heavenly fourth movement Adagietto.

Delicately scored for harp and strings, in contrast to the lavish orchestration of the other movements, its haunting effect on listeners makes time stand still. For Mahler himself, this hypnotic piece was a love letter to Alma Schindler, written shortly before they were married in 1902. Its popular reach has seen it extend way beyond the perimeters of the concert hall, to be encountered on countless greatest hits record albums and a chart-topping favourite on radio stations such as Classic FM’s Hall of Fame. Ensconced in the soundtrack of Luchino Visconti’s classic 1971 film adaptation of Thomas Mann’s novella Death in Venice, the Adagietto took on a household identity that since has never faded.

Tickets for the Mzansi National Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2023 National Tour are on sale at Quicket. Call 021 424 9308 or log onto sales@quicket.co.za / support@quicket.co.za.

The Mzansi National Philharmonic Orchestra National Tour:

  • Linder Auditorium, Johannesburg: Thursday, August 10 at 19:30
  • Cape Town City Hall, Cape Town: Saturday, August 12 at 19:30
  • Featherstone Market, Gqeberha: Monday, August 14 at 18:30

Full Programme:

Verdi: La Forza del Destino – Overture

Verdi: La Forza del Destino – “Pace, pace mio dio”

Mascagni: Cavaleria Rusticana – Intermezzo

Puccini: Turandot -“Singore, ascolta”

Wagner: Lohengrin – Prelude to Act III

Wagner: “Dich, teure Halle”

Interval

Mahler: Symphony No.5